Terry in Herland, Chapter 1

I'm not writing this for publication—not now only a few years after the Great War came to its brutal conclusion. Van's account of our time in Herland will have to stand, at least until the world progresses considerably more than even in that so-called utopia.

Van's account is not wholly inaccurate. I suppose I should admit, as the amused eyebrow of my companion indicates, that Van is a reasonably objective fellow. If he interpreted certain events only within the confines of his own understanding, ah, well, don't we all?

And at least Van tried to see more than one side. But he was hampered, partly by his own prejudices and partly, in all fairness, because of how much we didn't know.

What I won't refute: the way the adventure began. We—Jeff, Van, and I—joined a large scientific exploration. I knew Jeff and Van from college. Since the expedition needed another doctor, I asked Jeff to join. Van's a sociologist and good company besides. He and Jeff were both eager to try something new, and I was chomping at the bit.

We were loosely connected to the Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Exploration, but that admission will give you no idea where Herland is located. We never did end up in the Brazilian Amazon basin.

At the time (and still today), I greatly admired Teddy Roosevelt, and I wanted—needed—to be out in the world doing something. I couldn't stand another day sitting behind a dreary desk, sorting through mundane client requests while the family business hummed away beneath me and paunchy gentlemen asked me to lunch with their shrill wives.

After lunch, I'd return to the office for mind-numbing discussions of shipments and costs and accounts after which I was obligated to spend an evening “goin' round” the clubs or filling a seat at a society dinner or some kind of musical entertainment. I'm not the stay-at-home-with-a-good-book type, though that depends to a great extent on the book and the at-home company. So out I'd go, clapping the gentlemen on the back and dancing attendance on the ladies.

Whatever Van might say about my peacocking (one learns to do it if one has to), I was two seconds away from starting a fight in a society lady's vestibule—or shooting a cannon out the large bay windows on the family business's high twelfth floor. Followed by myself.

I was relieved beyond measure when Johnny Tate cornered me on my way out of Delmonico’s and started nattering about funding an expedition to “explore the wonders of the other America.” I handed over running of the family empire to Cousin Harold, who enjoys that sort of thing, scooped up Van and Jeff, and was off.

That expedition was where we first learned of Herland. We were exploring a specific river (to remain unnamed). Heading upstream, we reached a large lake with cliffs at the far end. We spotted evidence of run-off from dyes, and Jeff fished an elegantly embroidered piece of cloth out of a tributary; it was clearly mill-made which lead to rampant conjecture amongst us three men. Then our guide began to regale us with tales of a “Amazonian” tribe living above the cliff towards the mountain chain.

Naturally, we became determined to find the place. As Van writes, we came home, made further arrangements to be gone for many more months (much to Cousin Harold's relief in my case) and took off again, this time using my yacht. I hired a crew with my own money (yes, I’m one of those Nicholsons) but of course, my employees wouldn’t do the actual exploring. Van, Jeff, and I would investigate the countryside for signs of Women’s Country—while my staff set up tents, cooked our food, and made everything cozy.

Ah, the pleasures of high society “exploration.”

As it happened, Van, Jeff, and I came in for more real adventures than even I anticipated.

We did a lot of speculating on board the yacht about this so-called female paradise. I found it amusing to imagine the place as a kind of female harem eager for male company, mostly because it annoyed chivalrous Jeff and ramped Van up to his most pedantic. I don't think either of them have ever read Haggard's She.

We returned to the broad, oval lake, which was fed by the tributary where we found the cloth. We established camp and unpacked the biplane I’d brought. The next day we began an aerial survey. There was no other feasible way to transverse the high cliffs that bordered the once-crater lake.

In his account, Van describes our use of the biplane to make initial passes over the country. The residents had obviously never seen a plane before—a claim that few mortals could make now—so I decided to land despite Van and Jeff's objections. I realize now that we would have been better served coming down in the mountainous north. At the time, landing in the smooth, pasture-like south seemed a most excellent plan.

Van is better at waxing eloquent about Herland's beauties than I am waxing eloquent about anything. Yet he is right. High cliffs followed by deep jungle hid Herland from the world. In the north, mountains high enough to attract snow kept it supposedly inaccessible. Between the cliffs and the mountains was greenery intersected with smooth-running streams bordered by thick-leaved trees and luscious flowers: a kind of Garden of Eden.

All gardens have serpents. Herland was never as inaccessible as its leaders—for the sake of clarity, I call them leaders—imagined. Few things are. But the early twentieth century was a strange time when undiscovered corners of the world still existed. Undiscovered creatures. Undiscovered people. Now, eyes turn to the heavens, to outer space. Where else can we hunt for the unknown except in the darkest parts of the ocean, which are just as uninhabitable?

We flew high the first day, lower the second. The land was cultivated which indicated civilization—or at least farmers. People ran out as we passed over—Van claims that even then we realized they were all women. This is hindsight talking; he knows as well as I do that humans vary greatly in dress and ornament; in some tribes, men wear skirts; in some, they grow long hair. One can hardly make a decent appraisal of an entire culture from the air.

Jeff and Van wanted to take another pass; I was worried about fuel. Besides, I didn't see why our curiosity should entail alarming the “natives.”

I confess it never occurred to me that they might have missiles; this was before 1914. I considered it best to land for the sake of civility and economy. I brought us in carefully on a smooth piece of ground near the cliffs on Herland's southern border. We landed with no incident and clambered out to stretch. We didn't cover the plane; we weren't sure how long we would be there, and I wanted a swift retreat.

Besides, Van and Jeff were nattering on about all the “pretty ladies.” I finally agreed, “There were some good lookers in that bunch.”

I'm not sure even now how they expected our expedition to resolve. In the end, I think Jeff found exactly what he expected to find while Van struggled to find something profound and scientific. And I . . .

met the male citizen that Herland claimed not to have.

Next Chapter 2: Alim